Director Malcolm D. Lee Talks ‘Barbershop: The Next Cut’

We sat down with director Malcolm Lee and screenwriter Tracy Oliver to talk about their film Barbershop: The Next Cut including Common’s incredible performance, working with many up and coming actors and how society today influenced the film. 

Q:  This movie, is obviously a comedy, you know, it’s very entertaining, but the powerful message, I think this might be the dominate gene trait. When you guys came back for the sequel and conveyed, was that an intentional, like we have to go left and talk about social issues?

Tracy Oliver: For us, it was kind of a mandate from Cube. His thing was, I’m only going to do a Barbershop movie if it feels authentic and it’s directly dealing with Chicago, the south side of Chicago specifically, and what’s happening with gang violence, and for us, we supported that. We wanted to do something socially relevant. I think the other Barbershop movies also touched on politics, in some way. A lot of the conversations did go there already, so that was kind of a template that we embraced, but we decided to kind of push it even further, and really talk about what’s happening as far as gang violence, because if you do the south side, you can’t tell that story and just ignore what was happening. So, that was something that we wanted to embrace, but it does make it challenging, because it kind of changes the tone a little bit. It’s a little more dramatic than some of the other, the two other Barbershop movies because of that.

Malcolm D. Lee: And no one is exempt from that violence, which is why we made the decision that we made. Like what happens in the second act, it’s — I actually have a friend who’s the … Who I went to Georgetown with, Tim King, who has Urban Prep Academy in Chicago  and one of his students was gunned down, this is one of the kids that is doing something with his life, that is trying to get a higher education. It was very much an influence on the picture for me, and I never met the kid or anything. I was like this has to resonate with people, but at the same time, it is a comedy, and I never want the audience to forget that they are watching a comedy, no matter how heavy it gets.

Q: I’m going to piggyback off of that, I was just talking to Cube and Anthony about this, I actually lost my father to gun violence last year so it hits so close to home. All of the scenes were very realistic.

ML: Wow. I’m sorry hear that.

Q: Thank you. It’s just like these are real issues, that don’t just happen in Chicago, but in Virginia for me, and all over the world. So what do you guys intentionally want people to walk away with, after seeing this?

TO: I think, hopefully the message that we are trying to get out there, is just the power of the individual really. People put a lot of pressure on Obama or the government to do stuff, to create change and that policy that can stop gun violence, but there’s a lot that we can do as individuals. That was something that we wanted to do, was just kind of empower this community in some way. We didn’t want to have this negative message that we’re kind of hopeless unless people reach out and help us, we can take the power back and do a lot for ourselves. There are communities that are doing that. Part of the story that we ended up telling, came from a real life barbershop in the south, that did take control of their neighborhood. There are places that are like, we’re fed up and we’re not going to wait for help. That was kind of something that we wanted to do.

Q: Where was that barbershop, the real one?

TO: I believe it was Memphis.

Q: A long time ago?

No. It was just a couple years ago. It was an article that Cube found, and sent it to us, and said look there was a barber shop that actually got tired of gang violence, and they did something. They actually held this community festival type of thing. It was kind of a stop the violence, kind of, protest, and they were really interested. We thought that was a really cool story.

Q: There’s a lot of powerhouses in this film. You guys have some of the best comedians in the game. Some that are very known and some that aren’t so known, that really got to shine. Each single actor like got their shine in this film. Kind of talk about the cast, and how important it was to bring in some new faces, but also keep those legendary characters from all of the Barbershops.

ML: Well, you know, Kenya [Barris] and Tracey had written a very good, and funny script with some new characters, and because of what we were dealing with, the gang violence, and sometimes politics and battle of the sexes, I wanted to make sure that we were doing a comedy. That this movie could be the funniest of the franchise. It had an opportunity to be because we had all these new characters that were written in there, that were really written funny. So I was like, let’s make sure that we cast really funny people in these roles. Fortunately, we were able to get many of them.

Lamorne Morris, I think, his name is going to be in a lot of people’s mouths after this movie.

Deon Cole, obviously, who kind of like rose on Blackish. It’s what Kenya calls, left handed comedian, like he’s coming at it a different way.

J. B. Smoove, we were very fortunate to get him. He came in and I was like, surprised that he wanted to do it, and I was like, “Great.”

Regina Hall, we knew that, you know I could count on her for comedy when I needed to get it.

I pride myself on doing ensemble movies. Those are movies that I really like doing, and I really like working with actors and I like working to help them bring those characters to life. Fortunately, they come so prepared, with little notes and stuff for me that may take it to another level. They’re already so good at what they’re doing. They take what’s on the page, and they elevate it. What’s on the page is great. But they’re going to be in the moment, bouncing off other funny people. I think it’s both a challenge and a help  that they have people in there that are going to push them to be they’re very best.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about doing that with Common? He’s not really a comedian, he’s not in

ML: No. You realize, he’s not there for that, he’s not there to be a funny guy. What was so great about, even the initial Barbershop, you had a lot of different kinds of talent in the movie. You have rappers, you have comedians, you have real actors, that’s what we have here as well. Common fits right into that because … he’s from Chicago, he gives a real authenticity to that Chicago lifestyle and that kind of presence and he’s very much known for his political and educational rap, you know where he’s very thought provoking. So he was a great fit for us.

Q: He has a good speech.

Yeah, and oh my god, he really killed it. In fact, when the Charleston massacre happened, we had already shot that scene, and we went ahead and had him redo it, and he really like just, you know he was so locked in when he was delivering that speech. It was incredible to witness. He was really in the zone. He kept on repeating it and repeating it, it was really incredible to see.

[To Oliver] Were you on set that day?

TO: I was. Yeah.

ML: Yeah, so you know, it was really incredible. Talking about his comedy, there is that moment in the car. Which was really, really funny and it was like, you know, we were struggling a little bit, like okay, if she’s going to come on to him, you know, does he immediately reject her? I don’t remember how it was written before but we knew we had some confident and it had to be talked about. I was like, look, let’s make it so that like, he’s calling her out on it right away, and she’s like oh, and she turned the table on him and walks away. So he’s like, wait a minute, she really did want me, didn’t you? I mean, it took us a beat to get to it but I said, “Common, don’t hold yourself back. Just say whatever comes to your mind, and just keep going.” You know, if your going to imitate her, go ahead and do it. He really comes alive in a great way in that moment.

Q: Malcolm, you’re leading this charge of putting these black movies into the main stream, you know, giving us diversity. Not just for black viewers, just anybody, anybody who wants to go to movies and get an alternative. Try putting words to the importance of actually having that.

ML: You know, from outside of my career, I felt like I wasn’t seeing myself represented on screen. Any black person on screen was a thug, or a criminal or overtly black with kit the cloth hat and barrel fits in the air, overtly political and like archetypal really. I was not seeing … Even the educated black people on screen, they were very stiff and they were sell outs and they somehow forgotten their cultural identity. I was like, that’s not my reality. I want to see myself, I want to see people that I know, my friends, on screen and I’m going to make … I’m going to have films that are culturally specific, but they’re going to be universal, you know, universal stories, and I always try to do that in my films because I think it’s just important because it’s not only for us to see ourselves, like that because there’s a community that knows who they are, but when they see themselves reflected on television and on movies, it’s not always a true reflection. I wanted to make a — I’ve always wanted to make films that show a diversity of ourselves, and the Barbershop franchise certainly does that because you have … Everybody is coming to the Barber Shop. From the criminal to the church boy, they are coming in to the Barbershop to get groomed. From the poorest kid to the richest man, they’re in the Barber Shop getting groomed. They have a place that they go, that they discuss things, that’s a family environment and sometimes not so much family because you know, there’s strong words that come out of the Barbershop. That’s where language is born. That’s where the newest sayings get born. I heard a guy say, the other day “I’m going to keep it thou wow with you” and I’m like, thou wow? I’m going to keep it thou wow with you baby … I’m like, okay.

Q: What does that mean?

ML: It means, I’m going to keep it real. I’m going to keep it one hundred, I’m going to keep it one thousand, I’m going to keep it, you know, one hundred percent.

Q: All right. All right. I got it. You guys also talked a lot about community. Do you guys have any project that your involved in, within your communities? 

ML: Well, when you say projects, what do you mean? You mean like community activism kind of thing?

Q: Is there any different organizations that you support and that your actively involved in?

ML: I mean, not actively. My kids are in Jack and Jill, and you know, in this political season, I certainly know who I want it to be, you know, the next President of the United States, and it ain’t Donald Trump.

TO: For me, I try to be involved with women’s groups a lot. Particularly with entertainment. There’s not that many of us that are writing and directing, especially in the studio system. I do a lot with that. I do like, women in film stuff or panels or when I was at USC I was president of the African American Cinema Group. Either African American groups, entertainment based or women groups, I think it’s really important to mentor people coming up.

ML: Yes.

TO: I know you [Lee] do a lot of that. I just try to be on panels and workshops and stuff like that just to like, reach out to those specific communities because when I was coming up, I didn’t really have someone to mentor me, to be honest. There was no person reaching out trying to tell you how to navigate being a woman in a very male dominated field. When I see women coming out of USC or out of Stanford, I give them my contact information and just try to be in those types of communities.

ML: I think it’s very valid. We need mentors in our business because we are presenting images to the world of black people, of women. We want to be representative of the community at large and not just a narrow focus of what the people could be. I feel, to me, that’s my contribution to contribute to society, to help people elevate to a different way of thinking.

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